After being able to practice only twice over the last two weeks due to their Coronavirus outbreak, the New England Patriots returned to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday to start their on-field preparation for the upcoming game against the San Francisco 49ers. It was an eventful session for the team as a total of six players returned from various health-related reserve lists.
Let’s take a look at them:
C David Andrews, DT Beau Allen, LB Josh Uche: Returning from injured reserve
Four members of the Patriots’ injured reserve list were eligible to return to practice this week, and three of them did: center David Andrews, defensive tackle Beau Allen and linebacker Josh Uche were back on the practice fields — opening a 21-day window during which they can be activated to the active 53-man roster; if not, they will remain on IR for the rest of the season.
Andrews is the biggest name on the list given his status as the Patriots’ starting center. With him back in the lineup either this week or at a later point, Joe Thuney can return to his natural left guard position while the entire depth up front gets a significant boost. The veteran and team captain was moved to injured reserve because of an injury on his right snapping hand, and was eligible to return after missing the last three games.
Also back on his first day of eligibility is Josh Uche. One of the Patriots’ second-round selections in this year’s draft, Uche was inactive each of the first two games of the regular season before being moved to IR ahead of Week 3 due to ankle and foot ailments. His return significantly bolsters the depth of New England’s front seven — something that can also be said about Beau Allen’s.
Allen was signed as a free agent this spring, but was a no-show throughout public training camp practices this summer. The fact that he was not moved to injured reserve before roster cutdowns was a positive development, however: the Patriots apparently felt that he was close to a return, and now it has happened — at least in terms of him moving to the reactivation window.
Only one player eligible to return remains on IR for the time being: offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste.
G Shaq Mason, DT Byron Cowart, LB Derek Rivers: Returning from the Reserve/Covid-19 list
New England moved five players to their Coronavirus reserve list over the last two weekends, and three — all but running back Sony Michel and center James Ferentz — are now back as well.
Shaq Mason is the most notable of the three considering that he is New England’s starting right guard, and that his two-week absence due to a calf injury and him being moved to Reserve/Covid-19 put some major pressure on the team’s offensive line depth: Mason’s role initially went to rookie Michael Onwenu, but additional personnel changes up front meant that second-year man Hjalte Froholdt had to be inserted into the lineup.
With Froholdt at right guard, Onwenu at right tackle and left guard, and the aforementioned Joe Thuney at center, the Patriots’ O-line struggled on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Also returning off the Coronavirus list is another depth member in the trenches, albeit on the other side of the ball: Byron Cowart, who was diagnosed with the virus last Saturday, leading to the postponement of the Patriots-Broncos game. A rotational member of the defensive tackle group, the second-year-man has proven himself a valuable member of the defense against the run.
Finally, Derek Rivers returned as well. The fourth-year man is in the middle of his best season to date and his return to the active roster certainly is an encouraging sign — both for him and the Patriots’ linebacker depth.